How I Came to Be

My blogging activity has taken a nosedive this summer. I have been simultaneously busy with family activities in another state (including a death and a wedding), drudging my way through a dozen books I started this year (I'm not much of a reader), and trying to enjoy my leisure time. Recently, though, my friend Bill Schlegel (Land and Bible) put out a call for Biblical Unitarians to share their testimonies to be included in the Testimonies section of the One God Report. I thought it would be helpful to include my story, as there is a pretty sharp divide among Biblical Unitarians when it comes to the applicability of the Torah, and that was for me my launching point for changing my perspective on the person of Jesus Christ.

I was raised in an evangelical home of the Church of Christ persuasion. I was baptized by my father when I was 9, and I had a profound love for God and a desire to understand the Scriptures. In early high school, we moved to a new town, and the church my parents chose to join was a bit lackluster in adolescent education. (My first time going, we watched The Matrix to find all the Christian allegories. Deep stuff.) As I progressed through high school, I became dissatisfied with this, and ultimately began attending a fundamentalist Bible church in the theological vein of John MacArthur. During college, I joined a conservative Presbyterian church, then returned to the IFCA congregation after graduation. In short, I was an ardent Calvinist, often to the point of arrogance.

In 2016, I moved to the Cincinnati area and took a job at the newly opened Ark Encounter as part of the team that maintained their point-of-sale systems. As it was a new attraction, there were a lot of bugs to work out while also keeping things running smoothly for our guests, so I spent a lot of time in the ticketing building. While there, I befriended a woman who belonged to the “Hebrew Roots Movement”, a loosely affiliated group of Christians who have begun keeping the Torah (Law), particularly the Sabbath, holidays, dietary instructions, and wearing makeshift tassels. We had many good conversations about Scripture, but after a while, I realized what she truly was: a legalist. My superior grasp on the doctrines of grace was appalled.

In one conversation, nearly three years ago to the day, we were discussing the End Times. Obama was still the president, so I was sure his ascendancy above the stars of God was just around the corner. Coupling that with several apparent coincidences with the upcoming 70th rebirthday of the nation of Israel and the 49th anniversary of the union of Jerusalem, how could we not be on the precipice of the Tribulation? As I shared my surety of the Rapture, she responded with incredulity, saying she only hoped to remain faithful to God and his commandments (Revelation 14:12).

Although she was clearly off her rocker, as that verse obviously only applied to the dispensation of Israel, this conversation ultimately led me to a video by Zachary Bauer that she'd shared on Facebook. It was regarding Mark 7:19 and the claim that “Jesus declared all foods clean”. This had come up in my discussion at work, so I decided to dig into the Greek to prove Bauer—and my friend—false. I won't go into detail here because I hope you'll be spurred onto the same study, but suffice to say, a week later I'd made my own makeshift tassels, thrown out all the pork in my fridge, and asked my boss to take me off the schedule on Saturdays.

As I continued to study, I became increasingly aware of a problem: Throughout the Bible (Old and New Testaments), God asks his people to repent and keep his commandments (e.g., Deuteronomy 30:11, 15; Matthew 19:17). Yet the Christianity I'd grown up on said this was impossible—and even a slap in Christ's face, since we were in effect ignoring his work for us so that we could save ourselves. I could find nothing of the sort in the Bible, but only a call to repent and obey. I knew that what I'd heard in church all my life had to be false. This was the first of three pillars to fall.

The more I studied the Torah and the new covenant, the more I realized it was all really about the restoration of the Tribes of Israel to the nation promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I adopted a new soteriology called “Two-House Theology”, based on the principle that God divorced the Northern Kingdom (Jeremiah 3:1-8) and could not remarry them without some kind of death and rebirth. Although I lacked the Christological background to put a name to it, I briefly entertained an idea similar to Dr. Michael Heiser's “Two Powers in Heaven” view.

This didn't sit rightly with me, though. As I became more solidified in Two-House Theology, I realized there was also a problem with my anthropology. Until this time, I had taken for granted the idea of dualism, where from conception we become immortal beings who must spend eternity either in blissful heaven with God or be tossed into eternal flaming darkness with no reprieve. It would take too long to recount all my objections to this position—including the discomforting thought that God would need to give sinners a new, spiritual body to withstand the unending fires of Gehenna. But in short, I realized that Scripture consistently teaches Conditional Immortality, not Eternal Conscious Torment (cf. John 3:16; 5:21). This was the second pillar to topple.

This presented a new problem for me. If the Bible teaches that humans can, or at least have the potential to, obey God perfectly; and it also teaches that the judgment for wickedness is destruction and not eternal torture; then it made little sense for Jesus to be God, even as merely an avatar. One of the main reasons I'd heard he had to be God was because only God could obey perfectly, and only God could bear an infinite punishment in a finite period. Furthermore, I began studying different ideas on atonement. Penal Substitutionary Atonement made no sense to me anymore. Nothing about it fit into the new paradigm of covenants and kingdoms and immortality being a gift rather than a guarantee. Through the likes of researchers such as Tim HeggSean Finnegan, and others, I found a new understanding of the meaning of atonement in the mind of the Hebrews, and have settled on a perspective closer to Communal Substitutionary Atonement.

In light of these changing perspectives, the third pillar came crashing down. I could find less and less evidence in the Bible of Trinity or even “God the Son”. When the same Bill Schlegel who prompted this post was fired from The Master's College and Seminary about a year-and-a-half ago, I was still somewhat uncertain about this “just a man” Jesus view, so I spent a month working my way through one of the essays the university published in defense of their scandalous actions (Response to TMU: A Synopsis of the Deity of the Messiah). This was largely just done for my own peace of mind. I figured if anyone could convince me I was wrong, it was this university which I (at the time) highly respected and whose teachings formed a major theological foundation for the church of my young adult years. If you've read anything I've written before, you know where this is going.

In the year or so after coming to appreciate the distinct humanity of my Rabbi Jesus, the focus of my studies have shifted more into understanding who this Jesus was in the context of First Century Judaism. My anthropology has become strictly monistic, a topic worthy of a post of its own that I've been meaning to write all summer. My understanding of the new covenant and the idea of being “born again” has led to an abrupt change in perspective best summarized by my friend Ken Heidebrecht in his teaching series “Water & Spirit”. While coming to a biblical understanding of believers' relationship to Torah, the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, and the true fate of the wicked, were all important milestones in my faith walk, the most important piece by far was coming to understand the identity and humanity of Jesus—a man appointed by God to lead the world into an everlasting covenant with her Creator.

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